The mental health research funder 1907 Research, Inc. announced the recipients of its first annual 1907 Trailblazer Awards today. The two-year grants, valued at over $120,000 each, were awarded to three promising scientists to pursue groundbreaking mental health research proposals:
- Dr. Benjamin Bartelle from Arizona State University, for his proposal "Accessing neuroimmunity with a domesticated Zika virus." Dr. Bartelle's fellowship is generously sponsored by the Kissick Family Foundation.
- Dr. Laura Lewis from Boston University, for her proposal "Linking sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flow, and inflammation, in depression."
- Dr. Katherine Scangos from the University of California, San Francisco, for her proposal "Using direct cortical and subcortical neural recordings to uncover principles of network dynamics underlying depression symptom severity in major depression."
"The three early-career researchers we have chosen to support are truly exceptional in their ambition and innovation. Tackling psychiatric disease and mental illness through neuroscience needs new thinking, and this is exactly what our incoming Fellows are bringing," says Dr. Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex and member of the 1907 Research Advisory Board which selected the 1907 Trailblazer Award Fellows.
"We were looking for people with thoughtful but different perspectives on the neurobiology of mental illness, that have the potential to transform our understanding of these disorders," reflects Dr. Amy Arnsten, Professor of Neuroscience at Yale Medical School and member of the 1907 Research Advisory Board.
The 1907 Trailblazer Award Fellows were chosen from a pool of over 150 applicants from 69 research institutions - universities and hospitals - in the US, UK, and Canada. The recipients were unanimously selected by a committee of twelve scientific advisors from disciplines spanning psychiatry, neuroscience, genetics, and engineering. 1907 Research designed a unique research review process that focused on the scientific merit of "novel ideas" while reducing bias via software-assisted, blinded analytics.
"1907 Research is committed to accelerating breakthroughs in mental health research by supporting ideas based on first principles thinking, rather than dogma," explains Dr. Vanessa Tolosa, a neurotechnologist and member of the 1907 Research team that reviewed proposals. "The unique process used for the 1907 Trailblazer Awards is designed to cut through discriminating factors that have no basis for scientific success such as gender, race, or pedigree. This allows for truly novel and sound ideas from the thinkers of tomorrow to be given a chance at discovery today."
The Fellows all commented about the significance of the 1907 Trailblazer Award to their research, especially in light of the challenge to secure funding for novel ideas.
Dr. Bartelle believes the Zika virus can be engineered to modify mechanisms in the brain's immune system. If successful, the tool could alter inflammation often associated with severe depression, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders -- something pharmaceutical companies have been unable to do. Viruses are a method of delivery for modified genes to cells, and this method of delivery is relevant for all kinds of mental illnesses.
"This tool development is the first step in the larger world of therapies because it has not been done before," Bartelle says. "Using the biology of a virus to do something you can't do with a drug is an entirely new form of therapy...1907 Research saw the potential for what I was proposing for a wide range of diseases."
Dr. Lewis is an expert on the impact of sleep on mental health disorders. The award will enable her lab to pursue a very novel idea for how neuroinflammation is regulated by sleep. Cerebrospinal fluid is a liquid that envelops the brain and is essential for maintaining brain health, as it can wash away inflammatory substances. Dr. Lewis has developed a new imaging technique to measure cerebrospinal fluid flow in humans and will study it in patients with depression through brain MRIs in their sleep. "The support of 1907 Research is transformative for being able to launch this unconventional project. As an early-career neuroscientist, the award will make a critical difference in our efforts to develop this new research area, which I hope will benefit our understanding and treatment of mental health disorders."
Dr. Scangos studies the development of novel, personalized, circuit-based treatment paradigms for depression. Dr. Scangos' research is unique because she is collaborating with a team of surgeons and implanting EEGs into human patients with severe depression, monitoring their neural behaviors in dynamic environments, and seeing how they respond to neurostimulation.
"This research is very high-risk," she says, "which makes it challenging to receive funding from standard grant agencies. The 1907 Trailblazer Award will allow me to start up my own laboratory and facilitate the collection of pilot data to show my research is feasible and can advance our understanding of depression. I am excited to be part of the amazing group of investigators passionate about making a difference through our research and patient care," Dr. Scangos remarked.
"Since its public launch in 2019, 1907 Research has been committed to supporting extraordinary young scientists", affirmed Dr. Guoping Feng, Professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of the 1907 Research Advisory Board. "These innovative research projects could potentially lead to the breakthrough discoveries we desperately need to solve mental health problems and are unlikely to be funded through traditional channels."
"We aim to support both the Science and the Scientist," said Adam Pieczonka, Co-Founder and Head of Award Management at 1907 Research. "Now that we have made award decisions, we look forward to building community and resources amongst the 1907 Research team and our Fellows to ensure the success of the Fellows over the two-year program."
To support cutting-edge research in mental health and sponsor a promising young researcher's 1907 Trailblazer Award, please make a contribution to 1907 Research at 1907-research.org/donate.
For more detailed information about the 1907 Trailblazer Award recipients, visit 1907-Research.org
About 1907 Research
1907 Research is a public charity that funds innovative mental health research. The 1907 Research team of scientists, technologists, and investors take a unique investment management approach to grant funding. The 1907 Trailblazer Award is granted annually to a select cohort of early-career MDs and PhDs at leading hospitals and universities. Donations support young scientists' investigation of the causes and cures of mental illness.